October 28, 2009

Read a new short story

My friend Aubrey Rhodes is a kick ass painter. She's already made a collage picture for the cover of my next book, "Termite Parade." (The picture is on the left here, for those of you with closed head injuries).
Recently, she and I collaborated on a project investigating inspiration, in which I wrote a short story based on a painting of hers, and she made a painting based on a short story of mine. It was a total blast. I loved seeing how our imaginations worked with one another, finding a germ of an idea in someone else's artwork and somehow making it your own iteration, an interpretation, a tribute, a new direction, some amalgam of all these things.

The painting of hers that I used for my inspiration is piece is called "In the Face of It All " and might be the most despondent clown EVER!

The story is printed here in its entirety and is called "Wite-out". Pop me a note about it; I'd be curious to hear thoughts/responses, not only about the story, but also the idea of how art informs art...


It was an inside joke. It was cute. It was theirs. “You’re my clown,” she’d say. This was when they’d be in the bathroom both doing facial masks, cream smeared on their faces. “I’m your clown,” he’d say and do clumsy pirouettes or pretend to twist balloon animals in midair, his face completely concealed. It was their cute inside joke. It was cute. It was…

And then it wasn’t cute and he wasn’t her clown and she was fucking pissed to be driving over to his new apartment to slam on the door, knowing he wouldn’t answer, god forbid he made one aspect of this whole debacle easy. She rang the doorbell. She yelled, “Jack!” and heard the slow shuffle of his feet on linoleum and the door opening.

“Are you drinking?” she said. “Jesus, Jack, you promised to sign today.”

He was in his official bathrobe. It used to be stark white with light blue happy clouds on it. But he’d smoked in it for three years, barely taking the thing off, cigarette ash dropping all over it and patterning its sky with storm clouds. “Did I say that?”

“Do you have a pen?”


“I need to get to work,” she said. “Some of us have jobs.”

“I used to have a job. I was your clown, remember?”

She held the papers out to him. “Just sign these so I can file them.”

He shuffled back across the linoleum holding the papers. He picked up his whiskey. He hadn’t actually gone to sleep yet from the night before. He didn’t know what time it was, but thought it about eight, since she usually aimed to be at the office at 8:45. He’d been up all night stewing over the state of his life. Drinking and pacing around the living room. Drinking and pacing and knowing she was coming with the divorce papers today. The papers he didn’t want to sign. The papers he didn’t see how he could sign.

“I’ll be back in a jiffy,” he called to her and made his way across the kitchen, turned a corner over toward a messy desk.

She couldn’t see him and she checked her watch and shook her head that he was drinking in the morning and what was she thinking marrying him in the first place? Why did she fall in love with every man who needed a little mothering?

“I’m already late,” she yelled.

“Just finding a pen. I know there’s one around here somewhere,” he said, but he knew right where a pen was and could have cared less. A pen wasn’t what he was looking for. A pen was the farthest thing from his mind because there was another item on the forefront. An item he’d already pulled out and laid dead center of the table. Wite-out.

He looked at the papers. Antagonistic words. Ruthless. Every syllable another representation of his failure. He couldn’t have these words existing anymore, and he took the lid off the Wite-out, dumping it all over his palm and rubbing his hands together, and like a child finger-painting, he smeared it all over the pages he was supposed to sign until there wasn’t a word left.

Then he picked them up and blew on them.

“Hurry up,” she said.

“I’m almost there.”

“I’m going to be late.”

“Just one more second.”

He finished his whiskey and he set the papers down to dry and again he picked up the Wite-Out and again he doused his hands, only this time he smeared his cheeks in it, his forehead, his chin, turning his whole face white and he picked the papers up again and said, “Do you remember when I was your clown?” and she said, “Jack, don’t,” and he shuffled back toward the door—she couldn’t see him yet—and he said, “I remember being your clown and you loved me and what went wrong?” and he was crying now and she said, “I’m not having this conversation again,” and he turned into the kitchen and screamed, “See, I’m still your clown!” and she said, “What are you doing?” and he held the papers out to her, smiling an exaggerated circus-smile and saying, “I’m still the man you fell in love with!” and he held the papers out to her, and as she saw what he’d done, that he’d erased everything from the pages, she started crying, too, he’d ruined another seemingly simple task, and she said, “Why?” and he said, “Why?” and she said, “Why?” and he said, “Why?” and they stood there asking the same question, a different question, until she left again.